February 2016 - The Teacher Studio: Learning, Thinking, Creating

We are always in such a hurry, aren't we?  We push, push, push all day long--moving from standard to standard--assessing where important.  Sometimes I think we need to just slow down and let our students explore our content through a new lens.

We have been working hard on identifying "turning points" in our books so we really studying texts we have read and looking for these key events that dramatically impacted how a story unfolded.  We have had some fantastic discussions and what COULD have happened in these book had these "turning points" not occurred.  Historical fiction book clubs got back together the other day and discussed these key events in their texts.  I then asked students to select one of the key events to do a VERY quick writing task on...their directions were simply to write a topic sentence that clearly stated the turning point of their book and then another one or two sentences to prove their "thesis".  This is a gentle warm up for our upcoming unit on literary essay writing!
 After students write their turning point and got it checked with me, I sent them back into their texts to reread the section and to really visualize what was happening.  They then worked to create an illustration to match their mental picture...they looked for key words and phrases the author used to help "paint" a picture in the readers' minds--and they we painted our own versions of them!

Students then worked to type up their "turning point" writings...printed them...and we got ready to create a fantastic hallway display!  Here are a few of my favorites!



The students absolutely loved the process-and in just one hour, we wrote, we read, we discussed, we drew, we painted...and all totally related to our language arts standards.  We CAN continue to bring creativity and joy into our teaching!

Want to watch a Periscope video replay about this lesson?  Click the image below!

Today is my day to post over at Upper Elementary Snapshots...so stop by to check it out and see exactly how powerful a simple writing prompt can be!  Just click either image to take you there! Want to watch a Periscope video where I explain it a little more?  Just CLICK HERE for the replay.   Since Periscope is still new to me, you might get more out of the blog post!


Hey there!  Just wanted to share a little information about a fun and practical lesson I did this past week with one of my favorite texts!  I love using picture books to do "double duty"--to teach reading strategies and skills AND social studies or science content.
For this lesson, I talk to my students about how writing is communicating--so we use our reading journals to practice our WRITTEN communication with each other!  Here's how I did it...I read the book in small sections and asked students to record their own thinking--their questions, wonderings, and "noticings" on the left side of a T-chart.  I gave them time after every few pages to jot their ideas on their side of the chart.
Like this!
After a few minutes of writing, I have them exchange notebooks with a partner where they then record their responses...if the first partner writes a comment, the partner can then respond--agree, disagree, ask more questions, and so on.  We practice these skills with our oral language, and we are now moving them to our written work.

After a few minutes, we exchange notebooks back and the students have a quick discussion with each other.  After that, I record some of their ideas on an anchor chart.
We continue this process through the book...read, respond, exchange notebooks, and then share out.

Interested in a resource to use with this book?  Here you go!

Seriously...I have been asking myself this question since I last heard about it last summer.  I fought it...I really did.  My brain has been churning lately with some ideas and now...

Not sure what Periscope is?  I did some research when trying to decide how to explain it to you...and the people over at www.socialmediaweek.org seemed to do it best.  I've linked to their original post and then summarized some of it for you here.  CLICK HERE to see their full post (well worth it!). 

Periscope is essentially a way to broadcast live--like a mini TV station.  People broadcast their cats sleeping.  They broadcast seminars.  They broadcast themselves cooking.

This is not what I plan to do.

My goal is really to continue to find ways to make my blog more interactive and to find more ways to truly HELP teachers do their job well.  Professional development is so lacking in our schools...and I have been so blessed to have the opportunity to share my knowledge via my blog--but I have had so many requests for more.  People want to know more about teaching methods.  About how I DO certain things.  I have a host of other ideas...and you'll just have to wait to see!  The thought of having my voice out there kind of freaks me out a little bit...but I promise to try to not be too cheesy.  I will also give the disclaimer that I am not cute nor giggly nor fashion forward.  Still possibly interested?  

You are a brave soul.


In the blog post menioned earlier, they explain a little more about Periscope and continue by sharing some key terminology.  Starting to get intrigued?  Check out these terms:
  • Scoper – A person who uses Periscope
  • Scope – Each time you live-broadcast a session, you are creating a scope. it's like an "episode" or video.
  • Hearts – One way people show their appreciation for what is being discussed is by tapping on the screen and giving a hearts--kind of similar to "liking" a Facebook post or tweet. 
  • Replay – Currently, Periscope lets your broadcast be recorded so other scopes can replay the broadcast for 24 hours.
  • Follow – Scopers follow each other. It is no different than liking a page on Facebook or following a user on Twitter. Lots of people "follow" people and never make their own broadcasts.
So--I'm curious to hear your thoughts. Who is on Periscope already?  Who is a little intrigued by the chance to have a more interactive "blog post" format where you can see and hear the information--not just read it? I would really and truly like to know your thoughts . . . so if you are willing to take two minutes (seriously . . . maybe not even) to take this little survey, it will help me see what my readers are thinking about the whole idea!

I am excited about this "less traditional" way of interacting with all of you--so why don't you take a risk and try it with me!  Chime in and let me know your ideas...
One thing that I know to be true is that getting moments of quality intervention time with students is tough--especially if they are receiving other interventions from specialists.  I am lucky this year that several of my students receive a daily 30 minute reading intervention with a specialist--but that means that they are in my room for my minilesson, leave for their intervention, and then come back for the remainder of reading time.  It's very hard to know how much time to spend meeting with them versus helping them develop their own reading stamina by reading "just right" books that they select.

Most of the time I try to strive for a balance.  After all, I DO want my students to learn how to read independently, so budgeting in time for this is essential.  So many of our strugglers are shuffled from intervention to intervention--and can become reliant on teacher guidance and can even develop some "learned helplessness" where they sit back and wait for hand over hand coaching.  I also want ALL of my students reading "real" books.  Not reproducible passages.  Not worksheets.  I want them reading.

Now the reality.  


Time.  That's right.  There just aren't enough minutes in the day to do everything the way I really want to.  So I do my best.

One thing I have  learned is to always keep the end in mind...and in order to make sure my students can be successful with their reading, I know that I need to make sure I keep my finger on the pulse of their foundational skills--and I have found that taking 5-10 minutes of time to work on some basic skills and then giving them the REST of the the time to work on transferring that skill to their "real" reading.  

How do I do this?  It varies...sometimes I might spend 5 minutes conferring with a student working on goals like fluency, accuracy, or phrasing.  I might confer with them and practice retelling what they have read or to discuss character traits or other lessons taught during universal instruction.  I might spend a few minutes talking about "just right books" and working to add new books to their book bins.  Sometimes, however, I want to work explicitly on a skill that might not necessarily be a part of our standard curriculum--something that might help them "unlock" the more challenging books facing them in the future.  I have found task cards to be one way to spend short, efficient instructional meetings.  I started to think about all the skills that I wanted to attack with my students and started building these short reading experiences to use.

I started with context clues--because I really wanted to coach my students in how to tackle challenging words by refining their skills with context clues.  Not only did I want to be able to select specific words to teach (you can never have enough vocabulary instruction, right?), but I wanted to be able to control the sentences.  You can certainly teach context clues when reading students self-selected books, but you might read page after page without a sentence that lends itself to good word study.  This is especially true when reading with students who are substantially below grade level as the texts they can read independently tend NOT to have rich enough vocabulary to practice this skill.  Task cards to the rescue!  I pull two students at a time...I love the dialogue we have together and can model our thinking as we problem solve these cards.   
 I ask my students to read the card aloud...and notice the key word.   Most of the time, students can't read the word--and that is the key!
I use magic "boo boo" tape to cover the context clue word and we talk about what words COULD fit in the blank.  The card shown below has this sentence:

Michael stayed up very late at a sleepover and was SLUGGISH for the rest of the weekend."

I covered up SLUGGISH and we talked about what words COULD fit in that spot.  My students threw out some of the following words...

crabby
tired
exhausted
awake

We tried out each word by reading the sentence aloud and we talked about which seemed to make the most sense related to the other "clues" in the sentence.  We used our prior knowledge to talk about how THEY feel after a sleepover and we all agreed that it must have had something to do with being tired.  We then worked on decoding the word "sluggish" and I gave them a few other sentences where "sluggish" was used...and then asked THEM to come up with a sentence.
 I had each student read the card aloud one more time with the new vocabulary word (boy, were they fluent!) and then we repeated the process for 3 more cards.  Believe it or not, I was able to do 4 cards in about 7 minutes...and then sent them back to their own books and reminded them to try this strategy if they found any "stumpers".
So...finding balance with reading interventions is never easy.  Ideally, these kiddos would get endless one-on-one attention.  The simple truth is, there is only one of me.  The more complicated truth is that they NEED to learn how to be independent as well.  Pairing their 30 minute intervention with this assortment of 5-10 minute mini-interventions from me--and then making sure that my struggling students have plenty of time to really READ is making a difference.  Students are learning to read--and they are feeling like they are "real" readers.  Mission accomplished.

Here are a few of the task card sets I have used with success in my class.  I'm open to suggestions for my next set! 




As we pass the halfway point in our school year,  one thing that is often a year-long issue is keeping all the math "stuff" organized!  If you are doing any small group work, you know that pieces and papers and parts can end up all over the place!  Here are a few tips that might help things run a little more smoothly-and save you and your students a little time and frustration.  Don't get me wrong...I have dice and counters ALL over my room--but if I didn't have a FEW systems in place, my room would be an even bigger mess!
For me, this is huge.  If I am teaching a small group or coaching a student, I don't want to be interrupted to be asked where the rulers are or where to find something.  I start my school year by showing students where everything is and how to put it away.  After all, we don't want them to only use a ruler or other supplies when we TELL them to, we want them to recognize when they are needed and go get them independently.
I often have different activities that I want my students doing during their independent or cooperative time, but they may not remember what they are called or where they go.  I have a few different types of baskets and storage systems--but I hang laminated cards on each where I can either list the name of the activity or specific directions.  When it's time to switch activities, I can wipe them off and start with a new one.
I use a TON of games in my room, many of which have cardstock card decks that I make.  Before I cut out the cards, I swipe different colored marker across each row of cards--and then when they are cut out, each card in the set has a colored mark.  I tend to make 3-6 copies of each game, so this helps students know where missing parts go.
Much like my laminated labels, I love using one of those rainbow drawer towers for the games I want students to have access to.  I do NOT leave all my games out at once--just the ones that I choose for whatever reason...fluency work, review, and so on.  Not all students use games from ALL the drawers, but this way there aren't 40 games around the room all the time.  Notice that I even have wipe off labels on the drawers to write what skill that game works on.
I use a lot of baggies for games...small baggies for parts, large bags for the game boards and smaller parts.  It was SO worth it to me to buy a huge pack of dice so I can put the needed dice and counters in each game so students can grab a bag and go...no searching for dice and supplies.  No wasted time!
Similarly, every time I introduce a new game, I show students exactly what parts are included and how it should be stored.  The goal is for ME to do NOTHING related to game organization!  Students can rise to the challenge if they know the expectations.

I also keep a giant tub where I keep my "out of circulation" games.  If I need something for reteaching or for an intervention group, then I have one place to go looking for it.

So...hope you found something that might be useful to you this year!  All the games shown above are found in my store under my "Dollar Deals" category.  They are all low prep games that are a great way to have students practice skills, to use in intervention groups, or even to send home for review.  Here are a few of the ones pictured.
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